What Was The Jonestown Massacre?

Before the attacks on September 11, 2001, the Jonestown massacre was the worst and deadliest event in US history. On that terrible day, November 18, 1978, more than 900 people died, including more than 200 children.

The group had been part of a cult called the People’s Temple, which was made famous by Jim Jones. Jones had gotten his followers to leave the United States and move to a remote jungle in Guyana, where he promised to build a perfect community.

What did Jim Jones do?

On May 13, 1931, Jim Jones was born in a small town in Indiana called Crete. Lynetta Putnam, Jones’s mother, is said to have thought that Jones was the Messiah. Jones’s ancestors were Welsh and Irish.

In 1934, the family moved to the town of Lynn, where they lived in a shack with no plumbing. Jones spent a lot of time reading the works of Mao Zedong, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mahatma Gandhi, and Karl Marx as a child.

He also had a deep interest in religion. Jones was an outcast, and his childhood friends called him a peculiar kid. Jones began to feel sorry for the African-Americans in his country, whom he saw as being mistreated.

He later talked about how he and his father had different ideas about race. Jones moved to Richmond with his mother. He graduated from high school in 1948 and married a nurse named Marceline Baldwin the following year.

Jones went to school at Indiana University Bloomington and then earned a secondary education degree at Butler University.

How the People’s Temple got started

Jim Jones came up with communist ideas because he thought that was the best way for people to live together. Jones was surprised when a Methodist Superintendent helped him join the Church, even though the Superintendent knew Jones liked communism.

Jones became a student pastor at the Southside Methodist Church in Indianapolis in 1952. He left the Church because it did not welcome the African-American congregation. He then started a church in a rented place called the Community Unity Church.

Jones and other new Church members pretended to heal people to get more people to join. Jones bought a church building in a neighborhood with people of different races in 1956. He first called it Wings of Deliverance but later changed it to Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church.

Jones and other Pentecostal pastors used healing and private information to impress the crowds at the Temple’s huge religious conventions. Jones and some Temple members drove through Ohio and Indiana cities to find new members and get money.

The Temple preached about equality and hired Archie Ijames as a preacher. Ijames was an African-American, which showed that the nearly half-African-American congregation was welcome.

The Church then joined the Christian Church and became known as the Peoples Temple Christian Church Full Gospel. The Church started programs to help people, and Jones was on the Indianapolis Human Rights Commission.

Growth and Moving to Guyana

By the 1960s, Jones’ sermons started to include socialist ideas. He also said that a holocaust was coming, and in 1965, he moved his Church to Redwood Valley, California.

In 1971, he put down roots in San Francisco, and in 1972, he did the same in Los Angeles. Jones started to get involved in politics and present himself as a respected churchman.

But the People’s Temple was accused of treating its members poorly, brainwashing them, stealing their money, and blackmailing them.

In 1974, a small group of Jones’ followers went to Guyana, where they set up an agricultural cooperative so that the rest of the group could join Jones in 1977. Jones convinced his followers to set up a socialist utopia.

Misuse of human rights

When the members got to Guyana, they found it to be a dangerous place. Because there weren’t enough cabins, the ones there had bunk beds and were too full. The cabins were also separated by gender, so married couples didn’t live together.

Members spent their days working in the fields and were punished when they questioned Jones’s authority.

The followers’ medicines and passports were also taken away, and some got sick because of the heat, humidity, and tropical diseases. Large jungle areas and armed guards surrounded the building to keep people from leaving.

Followers were told to attend long meetings and suicide drills late at night. The letters and phone calls of the members were closely watched. Leo Ryan, a US Congressman, heard about the terrible things happening at the settlement.

On November 17, 1978, he went with reporters and observers to check it out. The first day of the visit went well, but some locals came to the delegation as they were getting ready to leave the next day.

Ryan told anyone who wanted to leave to join his group, and one person tried to cut his own throat to show Ryan how dangerous Jonestown was. A group of gunmen from the community caught up with the delegation at the airstrip.

Five people, including Ryan, were killed, and 11 others were hurt.

The Horrifying Case of Mass Suicide

Jones was scared after the US delegation was killed because he knew the US government would attack the community.

Jones told everyone to meet in the main pavilion to carry out his revolutionary suicide plan, which they had already practiced. He convinced the church members that there was no other way out of the dangerous situation.

Big pots of Flavor Aid with a grape flavor were put together in the pavilion. Cyanide and Valium were added to the drink. The mixture was first given to the babies, then to the adults. The guards stood with guns to encourage everyone to take the deadly mix.

What happened next

In the mass suicide, 918 people died, including 276 children. The event went down in history as the time when most civilians were killed in a single act of violence in the United States.

The Temple’s headquarters in San Francisco was besieged by the families of the dead members and the news media.

The Temple members’ bodies were flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where some of them were found and identified. In a mass grave at Oakland’s Evergreen Cemetery, more than 400 bodies were put to rest.

People now think that New Religious Movements are dangerous because of what happened. In 1978, the Church went bankrupt, but its buildings in California, Los Angeles, and Indianapolis are still standing and used by congregations.

The Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 destroyed the San Francisco base, and a Post Office branch was built there.

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